Guns, girls and caste pride: Punjabi pop’s recurring theme

  • Nirupama Dutt, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Jul 09, 2016 20:06 IST
The popular ‘Jatt fire karda’ song picturised on Diljit Dosanjh raised hackles when cricketer Harbhajan Singh condemned the song for encouraging gun-toting youngsters to fire at wedding parties and even kill innocent people in the name of celebration.

Watching and hearing Diljit Dosanjh sing poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s melancholy love poem ‘Ik kudi’ for the movie ‘Udta Punjab’, one has to shake oneself into believing that he is the same singer who gave one of the most fierce songs about settling scores just last year.

The popular ‘Jatt fire karda’ song picturised on him raised hackles when cricketer Harbhajan Singh condemned the song and others of its kind for encouraging gun-toting youngsters to fire at wedding parties and even kill innocent people in the name of celebration. Dosanjh had earlier too done the controversial ‘Golian’ number with rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh.

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We are in times when pop Punjabi has the nation dancing at celebrations and parties as the peppy beat of the music has won over people.

However, many singers tend to bring the gun culture in the realm of music as a device to appeal to the masses. “It is not necessary that gun shots will take up the ratings. Many have tried this and failed. If the song has substance, it will appeal to the listeners with or without guns,” says upcoming singer Joban Sandhu.

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Incidentally, Joban who has a fine voice and a gentle persona, shot into fame with a song last year called ‘Jatt Mehkama’. This number had everything from twirling the moustache, firing in the air in rivalry, accosting the pretty maid and indulging in tractor tug-of-war that is emerging as a popular sport these days and it got him the best new singer award from a Punjabi channel.

Jatts being the dominant land-owning class in the agrarian state of Punjab, they figure in music with not just Jatt singers but others too singing their praises, and even complimenting their eccentricities.

A flashback to the ’80s would show you how Surinder Shinda, who came from a Ramgarhia Sikh family, took this trend a step forward by singing ‘Putt jattan de bulavan bakre’. Those who do not know what the phrase ‘bakre bulaona’ means, it is challenging someone with a view to thrashing them and then celebrating the victory over drinks and mutton. Awful but in the given culture, it’s considered so cool.

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Talking of this trend, music buff Rinnkie Gill says: “Guns seem to have become a part and parcel of popular Punjabi music just as caste. This is sad because music is above guns or caste and creed.”

It was Chamkila, one of the most popular Punjabi singers, who was shot dead during the days of militancy in Punjab in 1988. Chamkila is said to have been one of the first to sing of guns.

However, his chronicler, Gunjit Chopra says: “Guns have been part of the folk too, right from Jeona Morh to Soocha Soorma. It’s not a new trend, though the context has changed. They used to call it social banditry. As for Chamkila, he did mention weapons but not in a menacing way.”

Following the spate of Jatt superiority songs, we have had songs on chamars and valmikis too. “This caste war in music is an unhealthy trend and has its roots in identity politics and ethnic assertion.

All this caste rivalry was dismissed in one song which called for an end to this caste war saying ‘Punjabi taan Punjabi hunde ne’. Be it guns or caste assertion, our singers have to rise above playing to the gallery this way,” says Dalit writer Desraj Kali.

From HT Archives I  Big Picture: Suggestive lyrics, discordant notes

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